Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Studies Warn Of Rising Health Insurance Costs And Numbers Of Uninsured

Recent studies underscored two essential reasons health care reform is imperative. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that costs for health care continue to mount, outstripping wages:

The Kaiser study... found that the average premium for a family policy offered at work rose above $13,300 in 2009 — up from $5,800 in 1999. The average employer paid more than $9,800 of that, while the workers contributed more than $3,500. The workers were also hit with larger co-payments and deductibles, while their policies often offered fewer benefits.

The premium increase this year was a relatively modest 5 percent, far below the 13 percent rate in two previous years. But that still far outpaced a 3.1 percent growth in wages and a small decrease in inflation. Absent meaningful reform, worse is sure to come.

Kaiser estimates that, if increases revert to the average of the last 10 years, health insurance premiums in 2019 will average a whopping $30,800, which it calls “a very scary number.” More immediately, a fifth of the employers surveyed said they are very likely to increase the amount that employees pay for premiums next year.

A Treasury Department study focused on the danger many Americans face in losing coverage:

It found that, between 1997 and 2006, 48 percent of nonelderly Americans went without health insurance for at least one month, 41 percent lacked coverage for at least six months and 36 percent were uncovered for a year or more. That happened during a decade of strong economic growth. The number of uninsured is likely to be higher over the next decade, the study warns.

The irony is that those protesting health care reform are no less vulnerable to losing coverage than anyone else. The Nation recounted how one conservative, Kenneth Gladney (above), was particularly unfortunate to have no health insurance:

Spare a thought, and maybe even a dime, for Kenneth Gladney. In August he and other members of the right-wing St. Louis Tea Party arrived at a town-hall meeting organized by Missouri Democrat Russ Carnahan to lobby against universal healthcare. In the spirit of this fraught summer, a fight broke out, ending in six arrests.

Who threw the first punch depends on whom you ask. But who got the worst of it was fairly clear. Gladney was taken to the emergency room with injuries to his knee, back, elbow, shoulder and face and ended up in a wheelchair. His troubles were just beginning. Recently laid off, this particular anti-health reform protester, it turned out, had no health insurance. Last heard, he was still accepting donations for his medical expenses.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Liz Cheney: Another Inhabitant Of Planet Cheney

Liz Cheney, whose opinions on national security are the same as her father's, recently told Sam Donaldson of ABC's "This Week," "Waterboarding isn't torture, and we can go down that path. The lack of seriousness here is important."

If Ms. Cheney really wants to get serious about a determination like that, perhaps she should do what conservative Chicago radio host Erich "Mancow" Muller did: get waterboarded. "Mancow" lasted 6 or 7 seconds and concluded, "...if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture."

Ms. Cheney also told Larry King that Obama is " American president who seems afraid to defend America." Consider, then, recent domestic events related to fighting terrorism:

Just last week, F.B.I. agents were working double time to unravel the alarming case of a Denver airport shuttle driver accused of training with explosives in Pakistan and buying bomb-making chemicals. In Dallas, a young Jordanian was charged with trying to blow up a skyscraper; in Springfield, Ill., a prison parolee was arrested for trying to attack the local federal building.

Meanwhile, some foreign developments:

Three days apart in mid-September, American special forces in Somalia firing from helicopters killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a leader of a Somalian organization, Al Shabab, which is allied with Al Qaeda, and the police in Indonesia killed the most-wanted terrorist in Southeast Asia, Noordin Muhammad Top, in an assault on a house in Java.

In Pakistan, missile strikes from C.I.A. drone aircraft have taken a steady toll on Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies since the Bush administration accelerated these attacks last year, a policy reinforced by President Obama. A count of such strikes, compiled by the Center for American Progress in Washington, found a handful in 2006 and 2007, rising rapidly to 36 in 2008, and another 36 so far in 2009, nearly all in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Pretty strange that these events are occurring on the watch of a president who is "afraid to defend America." But that's the perspective of Liz Cheney, another inhabitant of Planet Cheney.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"The Baader Meinhof Complex" Film Review: Bombing And Shooting To A New Social Order

Germany's Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader Meinhof Group, was formed in the late 1960s in response to such issues as domestic repression, epitomized by a brutal police response to a demonstration against the Shah of Iran, and the presence of U.S. military bases in Germany during the Vietnam war era. There was also a sense that the newer generation was not going to allow the rise of fascism again, as those in power once did.

"The Baader Meinhof Complex," a film based on a book by investigative reporter Stefan Aust, shows that the group became at least as monstrous as any injustice they were fighting. They attempted to bomb, shoot and kidnap their way to a new social order, the nature of which remained hazy beyond the revolutionary rhetoric. The rhetoric itself revealed a contempt toward democracy, viewed as a veil hiding the oppressive nature of capitalism and imperialism.

The main characters are Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu), dictatorial, misogynistic and maybe even psychopathic, made all the more dangerous by his charisma; his companion, cold-blooded Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek), daughter of a clergyman; and Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), ready to put aside her journalistic career and even her children to take part in the group's terror operations.

At one point, the group is recklessly speeding in two cars along a highway, rock music blaring, shooting up signs. That incident, along with Ensslin's statement that "screwing and shooting are the same," revealed them as extended adolescents beneath the revolutionary image. Ultimately, groups such as the Red Army Faction and the Weather Underground in America not only fail to achieve their ends; they also tarnish the entire left (which is not to say that the right doesn't have their fanatical fringe) and help elect reactionary leaders.

"The Baader Meinhof Complex" is a powerful and riveting film that delivers two warnings: first, Horst Herold (Bruno Ganz), while tenaciously fighting the terrorists as head of the Federal German police, states repeatedly that we ought to understand and address their motives–a view often misconstrued as "justifying terror." Second, in seeking change, we should, as Mahatma Gandhi stated, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: John Coltrane Tranforms "My Favorite Things," 1961

John Coltrane's rendition of "My Favorite Things" completely transformed the Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune from "The Sound of Music." One could expect nothing less from "Trane," a volcanic force in modern jazz whose music reflected his constant quest for new sounds and his spiritual search. Playing in Germany in 1961, Coltrane, on soprano sax, is joined by Eric Dolphy, flute; McCoy Tyner, piano; Reggie Workman, bass; and Elvin Jones, drums.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Execution Of Cameron Todd Willingham Points To Death Penalty's Ultimate Injustice

Our criminal justice system, like any human enterprise, sometimes rules in error. As long as we have capital punishment, we will inevitably execute the innocent. Of all the arguments against the death penalty, this ultimate injustice has to be the most compelling. The execution of Cameron Todd Willingham (left) forms a tragic case in point. As the New York Times editorialized in "Questions About An Execution:

People should have no illusions about the brutal injustice of the death penalty after all of the exonerations in recent years from DNA evidence, but the case of Cameron Todd Willingham is still shocking.

Mr. Willingham was executed for setting a fire that killed his 2-year-old daughter and 1-year-old twins, but a fire expert hired by the State of Texas has issued a report casting enormous doubt on whether the fire was arson at all. The Willingham investigation, which is continuing, is further evidence that the criminal justice system is far too flawed to justify imposing a death penalty.

...Texas created the Forensic Science Commission to investigate charges of scientific mistakes or misconduct, and the panel began looking into the Willingham case. It commissioned Craig Beyler, a nationally recognized fire expert, to examine evidence.

Mr. Beyler issued a report last week that painted an ugly picture of what passes for expert scientific investigation and testimony in a capital case in Texas. The report found that the official inquiry into the Willingham fire did not meet prevailing scientific standards of the time, much less current ones.

The report concluded that a “finding of arson could not be sustained.” The Forensic Science Commission is now asking the state fire marshal’s office for its response. It anticipates issuing a final report next year.

The commission is to be commended for conducting this inquiry, but it is outrageous that Texas is conducting its careful, highly skilled investigation after Mr. Willingham has been executed, rather than before.

The New Yorker published an outstanding piece on the case, "Trial By Fire" by David Grann (9/7/09). The unscientific arson findings; the unreliable testimony of an unstable fellow prisoner; the doubtful trial statements of supposed medical experts who never met the defendant; and the failure of the Texas Court of Appeals to conduct an adequate review, including the findings of renowned scientist and arson expert Gerald Hurst, all point to a criminal justice system riddled with flaws yet ready to impose the ultimate, irreversible punishment. (In addition to the New Yorker article, I recommend Bob Herbert's "Innocent but Dead" (8/31/08) and the statement of The Innocence Project, which works to free the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing.)

AlterNet comments that the following video by comedian Lee Camp, while dealing with a case that is certainly not funny, satirically "lays bare the rotten core of U.S. capital punishment":

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Protect Health Insurance Executives' Mega Profits

Comedian Will Ferrell plays the lead in a ad on the real health care victims: the super-rich health insurance executives. Watch and join the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats in protecting their mega profits:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sen. Tom Coburn's Chief Of Staff: "All Pornography Is Homosexual Pornography"

Apparently among the values promoted at the Family Research Council's Values Voters Summit last weekend in Washington is hatred based on nonsense. Michael Schwartz, chief of staff for Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, presented a hushed crowd with a few revelations on gays. Here it is, with commentary from Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks:

Schwartz: But it is my observation that boys at that age have less tolerance for homosexuality than just about any other class of people. They speak badly about homosexuality. And that’s because they don’t want to be that way. They don’t want to fall into it. And that’s a good instinct. After all, homosexuality, we know, studies have been done by the National Institute of Health to try to prove that its genetic and all those studies have proved its not genetic. Homosexuality is inflicted on people.

How did Schwartz come to this conclusion? Why, he had one friend who was corrupted into "the homosexual lifestyle" by pornography. How much more empirical evidence does one need? Case closed!

Schwartz: And one of the things that he said to me, that I think is an astonishingly insightful remark. He said, “all pornography is homosexual pornography because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards. Now think about that. And if you, if you tell an 11-year-old boy about that, do you think he’s going to want to go out and get a copy of Playboy? I’m pretty sure he’ll lose interest. That’s the last thing he wants." You know, that’s a, that’s a good comment. It’s a good point and it’s a good thing to teach young people. (h/t Think Progress)

Krugman, The Nation Call On Obama To Confront Financial Industry Rewards

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman (left) and the editorial board of The Nation questioned whether President Obama is taking a strong enough stance against financial industry executives who are granting themselves bloated rewards despite being bailed out by the taxpayers. This issue could cause populist anger among all political sectors. From Krugman's "Reform or Bust" (9/20/09): that we’ve stepped back a few paces from the brink — thanks, let’s not forget, to immense, taxpayer-financed rescue packages — the financial sector is rapidly returning to business as usual. Even as the rest of the nation continues to suffer from rising unemployment and severe hardship, Wall Street paychecks are heading back to pre-crisis levels. And the industry is deploying its political clout to block even the most minimal reforms.

...I was startled last week when Mr. Obama, in an interview with Bloomberg News, questioned the case for limiting financial-sector pay: “Why is it,” he asked, “that we’re going to cap executive compensation for Wall Street bankers but not Silicon Valley entrepreneurs or N.F.L. football players?”

That’s an astonishing remark — and not just because the National Football League does, in fact, have pay caps. Tech firms don’t crash the whole world’s operating system when they go bankrupt; quarterbacks who make too many risky passes don’t have to be rescued with hundred-billion-dollar bailouts. Banking is a special case — and the president is surely smart enough to know that.

All I can think is that this was another example of something we’ve seen before: Mr. Obama’s visceral reluctance to engage in anything that resembles populist rhetoric. And that’s something he needs to get over.

The Nation, in "Tackling the Titans" (9/20/09) calls upon Obama to take decisive action:

To understand the dimensions of what's happening, check out the new survey from the Institute for Policy Studies, America's Bailout Barons. It documents a correlation that most people already understand: the very institutions that collected the most in government assistance are converting their good fortune into personal rewards while the rest of the nation sinks deeper into the mire of unemployment, bankruptcy and loss of homes. Common sense tells citizens this is morally wrong. It is also bad for the economy.

...President Obama can put a swift stop to these excesses--not in the name of vengeance but to create a better banking system. An executive order, for instance, could forbid any compensation at rescued institutions exceeding the $400,000 earned by the US president. Violators could be banished from enjoying any of the continuing subsidies provided by the Treasury and Federal Reserve.

Is this legal? If the bankers don't think so, let them sue. Meanwhile, the president can demand immediate passage of legislation authorizing the cap. In February the Senate approved such a measure, sponsored by Claire McCaskill and Bernie Sanders, but it was dropped in conference. If Obama revived the legislation, people who are enraged that banks are making out like bandits while they lose jobs and homes would know the president is too. If Obama leads, they will rally to his side.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fox News Producer Caught Egging On 9/12 Protests

Which network has a producer who was caught on video actually egging on the September 12 teabaggers' protest in Washington, DC? You guessed it. The Huffington Post confirmed that the producer is Heidi Noonan of Fox News:

"The employee is a young, relatively inexperienced associate producer who realizes she made a mistake and has been disciplined," Bryan Boughton, Fox News Channel Washington Bureau Chief, told the Huffington Post.

The video shows the producer on her cell phone as she urges the crowd behind [Fox reporter Griff] Jenkins to cheer louder:

Watch the presentation by Fox's Jenkins:

In answer to Glenn Beck's leading question, Jenkins states that the crowd is not astroturfed: "This is, as best as I can describe it, an absolute grassroots movement and this is an uprising; we are at the beginning of a political movement."

"Absolute grassroots"? Jenkins must not have heard of the lobbyist groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which formulated a harassment strategy for town hall meetings on health care, according to a leaked memo. Note, too, Jenkins' enthusiasm for the right-wing "uprising." Is there much difference between the cheerleading of Jenkins and that of Noonan? If Noonan weren't caught on camera, would she have been disciplined? She was, after all, just doing her job for the "fair and balanced" network.

The Teabaggers In Their Own Words

In the following video, the teabaggers speak for themselves during the September 12th protests in the capitol. Note the threatening signs that contradict the essence of democracy, including “Unarmed This Time” and “Pushing Us…Find Out What Happens,” plus the classy “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy.” Regarding the protests against government spending, where were these individuals when George Bush spent billions on a unnecessary war? Finally, many here were unable to back up their arguments beyond the usual anti-Obama sloganeering–including the obscene comparison of the President with Hitler. Watch:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ed Schultz: Anti-Gov't. Protestors Upset By Lack Of Public Transportation

Ed Schultz cited the hypocrisy of teabaggers who complained about the inadequacy of public transportation last week in Washington, DC. "They were protesting socialism, taxation and government-run programs, but now they're complaining that the Washington Metro system wasn't good enough for them," stated Schultz. "That's right: the Washington Metro is public transit. That means it's run by the evil government. Which is exactly what these nut jobs were protesting."

Actually, why would the teabaggers want to take public transportation? Isn't that...socialism? Schultz suggested that they take taxis. Wouldn't that be a good, market-based solution?

Schultz also referred to Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX), who sent a letter to the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority protesting the fact that that the system did not "...provide a basic level of transit..." Ed reminded the viewers that the congressman "voted against a bill that would have funded the DC Metro system." Watch:

The Plum Line commented on the twists and turns in Brady's stance: "’s a real head-spinner to bash a government-run system for failing to adequately serve an enormous anti-government protest after opposing government funding for it."

Harvard Medical School Study: 45,000 Americans Die Annually Due To Lack Of Insurance

Let's add one more statistic to the those I've repeatedly cited about the numbers who are uninsured and who declare bankruptcy as a result of our disastrous health care system. Harvard Medical School researchers recently released a study stating that 45,000 Americans die each year because they lack health insurance. The report states that our health care problem has gotten progressively worse:

Nearly 45,000 people die in the United States each year -- one every 12 minutes -- in large part because they lack health insurance and can not get good care, Harvard Medical School researchers found in an analysis released on Thursday.

...Overall, researchers said American adults age 64 and younger who lack health insurance have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who have coverage.

...The Harvard study, funded by a federal research grant, was published in the online edition of the American Journal of Public Health. It was released by Physicians for a National Health Program, which favors government-backed or "single-payer" health insurance.

An similar study in 1993 found those without insurance had a 25 percent greater risk of death, according to the Harvard group. The Institute of Medicine later used that data in its 2002 estimate showing about 18,000 people a year died because they lacked coverage.

Part of the increased risk now is due to the growing ranks of the uninsured, Himmelstein said. Roughly 46.3 million people in the United States lacked coverage in 2008, the U.S. Census Bureau reported last week, up from 45.7 million in 2007.

Another factor is that there are fewer places for the uninsured to get good care. Public hospitals and clinics are shuttering or scaling back across the country in cities like New Orleans, Detroit and others, he said.

Study co-author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler said the findings show that without proper care, uninsured people are more likely to die from complications associated with preventable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Dr. Woolhandler applied the type of common sense that was completely obscured this summer as a result of right-wing mob disruptions at town hall meetings:

"For any doctor ... it's completely a no-brainer that people who can't get health care are going to die more from the kinds of things that health care is supposed to prevent," said Woolhandler, a professor of medicine at Harvard and a primary care physician in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Remembering Mary Travers, Folk Singer And Supporter Of Progressive Causes

It is with great sadness that I reflect upon the death on Wednesday of Mary Travers, 72, of Peter, Paul and Mary. I saw the trio perform twice and was struck by her strong, clear voice and passionate convictions. Clenching her fist and tossing back her hair, Mary made it clear that she believed what she sang. She was part of a group that, at possible risk to their careers, took part in the civil rights and antiwar causes. Among the anthems that Peter, Paul and Mary sang were "Blowin' in the Wind," "The Times They Are A Changin' " and "If I Had A Hammer"; here is a performance of the latter in 1963:

Frank Rich: While Liars And Crazies Ran Amok, Obama Bided His Time

We're constantly being reminded that the public option for health care is fading. If it's politically impossible to have single payer health care in the U.S., a government-run public option is the only option left to keep the private insurance companies honest and responsible–for the very first time. The postmortems on the public option lead one to wonder whether President Obama has dithered on the issue:

That proposal took on a life of its own, but it now appears to be dying, a victim of an ineffectual White House strategy, the president’s failure to argue passionately for the “public option” and all-out opposition by the insurance industry and much of the health care industry.

...Once in office Mr. Obama and his advisers have sent conflicting signals about how critical a government-run health plan would be. He prefers a public plan but is open to other ideas.

Dancing around the issue for eight months, Mr. Obama has seemed, at various times, pragmatic, flexible or indecisive.

Unlike the President, the insurance companies were never "flexible or indecisive"; all along, they have been determined to retain the monopoly that has allowed them to drop consumers from their rolls, deny coverage and refuse "pre-existing conditions" while the cost of their "services" skyrocketed.

Frank Rich (above left), in "Obama's Squandered Summer," comments on the harm done to the President and health care reform by allowing lunatic charges from the right wing to dominate the public debate:

...a certain damage has been done — to Obama and to the country. The inmates took over the asylum, trivializing and poisoning the national discourse while the president bided his time. The lies that Obama called out so strongly in his speech — from “death panels” to “government takeover” — ran amok. for his signature program declined, not least because he gave others carte blanche to define it for him.

...It’s not, as those on the right would have us believe, that Obama’s ideas are so “liberal” that the American public recoiled. It’s that much of the public didn’t know what his ideas were. Even now I’m not convinced that most Americans know what a “public option” really means or what Obama’s precise position on it is. But I’d bet that many more have a working definition of “death panels.” The 24-hour news cycle abhors a vacuum, and the liars and crazies filled it while Obama waited for his deus ex machina descent onto center stage.

That he let the hard-core base of a leaderless minority party drive the debate only diminished his stature. That’s why his poll numbers on “leadership” declined.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"We're Number 37": Anthem For America's Place In World Healthcare

The last time the World Health Organization ranked the world's health systems was in 2000. The United States was number 37. We haven't changed our system for the better since then, so it's doubtful that we've made much if any progress in the rankings. Millions are still uninsured, half of all who declare bankruptcy do so for medical reasons, and groups such as United Healthcare make obscene profits while denying essential care. Meanwhile, mobs orchestrated by right-wing astroturf groups such as FreedomWorks and Americans For Prosperity furiously fight for the status quo. Singer Paul Hipp has a new anthem for them, "We're Number 37":

Tea Parties: The Contemporary Version Of Hatefests

Search hard for one constructive, reasonable sign among the tea party protesters. Just one sign that's not completely filled with hatred and distortion:

Did you find one?

Monday, September 14, 2009

J Street Redefines What It Means To Be Pro-Israel

In "The New Israel Lobby" (New York Times Magazine, Sept. 13), James Traub writes about J Street, a lobbying group that takes a more progressive perspective on Israel than such mainstream organizations as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac).

J Street is led by Jeremy Ben-Ami, whose father was affiliated with the Irgun, the right-wing group that fought the British for Israeli independence. Ben Ami states, "We're trying to redefine what it means to be pro-Israel. You don't have to be noncritical. You don't have to adopt the party line. It's not, 'Israel right or wrong.' " The article contrasts J Street's positions–including support for President Obama's call for the dismantlement of West Bank settlements–with those of the mainstream lobbies:

On the fundamental questions of Middle East peace, J Street occupies fairly traditional liberal territory, which of course places it well to the left of the mainstream groups. According to its “statement of principles,” the group favors “creation of a viable Palestinian state as part of a negotiated two-state solution, based on the 1967 borders with agreed reciprocal land swaps” — the formula envisioned by the Clinton administration in its 2000 negotiations with Yasir Arafat and Ehud Barak. Ben-Ami says he also favors Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states. On the question of talks with Hamas, classed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, J Street takes the cautious view that while we should not speak directly with officials, we should engage through intermediaries with the goal of finding interlocutors willing to live in peace with Israel.

According to surveys cited by the article, J Street speaks for many American Jews:

J Street maintains that most American Jews share its views on the Middle East. They are reliably liberal on questions of war and peace; three-quarters of Jewish respondents to a 2007 Gallup poll, for example, opposed the war in Iraq. The question is how much of an exception they make for Israel. J Street sought to answer this question by commissioning an extensive poll of Jewish opinion on Middle East issues. The survey, taken in July 2008 and repeated with almost identical findings in March, found that American Jews opposed further Israeli settlements (60 percent to 40 percent), that they overwhelmingly supported the proposition that the U.S. should be actively engaged in the peace process even if that entailed “publicly stating its disagreements with both the Israelis and the Arabs” and that they strongly supported doing so even when the premise was revised to “publicly stating its disagreements with Israel.”

J Street clearly has a long way to go before it poses a challenge to Aipac. But it is providing a valuable voice for those who believe that supporting Israel means backing a two-state solution and backing away from settlements. That includes a number of prominent Israelis, as seen in the following video:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Taking Woodstock": Unique Take On A Major Cultural Event

Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock" presents a departure from the host of documentaries commemorating the 4oth anniversary of the Woodstock Art and Music Fair of August 1969. The film is based on Elliot Tiber's memoir about the seedy Catskills hotel, El Monaco, that his Russian Jewish immigrants ran; Tiber held a permit for an outdoor music festival that was essential to allowing Woodstock to occur. Instead of playing up the music, however, "Taking Woodstock" concentrates on the effects of the event on the lives of its characters.

Elliot (Demetri Martin), a Greenwich Village interior designer, has returned to White Lake, NY, to plead his parents' case with a banker on securing one more loan to maintain the failing hotel. He is also the head of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce, and El Monaco is saved as it is transformed into the headquarters of Woodstock Ventures.

The characters offer a sampling of the cultural changes taking place: an ex-Marine in drag who serves as the hotel's head of security; Michael Lang, hippie entrepreneur of Woodstock Ventures; Billy, a high school friend and Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD; the Earthlight Players, a group of actors who live in the hotel's barn and have a predilection for prancing around naked at every performance, and Elliot's grim parents, who suddenly see things in a new light after ingesting brownies made with special ingredients.

It is Elliot, however, whose transformation, gently and gradually depicted, is the focus of the film. His experience at the festival, interaction with those staying at El Monaco and a revelation about the family finances contribute both to his coming out as a gay individual and to a new openness regarding his future life. It is this individual focus that gives "Taking Woodstock" a most original and enjoyable take on the much documented festival.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: The Cranberries Live At Woodstock '94

After a seven-year hiatus, the Irish rock band The Cranberries intend to re-form for a live tour. Below singer Dolores O'Riordan leads the band in "Dreams" in a Woodstock reunion festival, August 1994, in Saugerties, NY. As a veteran of the real Woodstock in 1969, I can testify to the fact that the mosh pits shown here were not part of the original festival–and I was past the age in '94 when I would have hurled myself into one. I would have been able, however, to stand off to the side and enjoy the dynamic performance here:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rep. Wilson Brings Townhall Antics Into House Chambers

Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) apologized for shouting "You lie" during President Obama's speech on healthcare to a joint session of Congress. Of course, Wilson had to do the politically expedient thing after his outrageous interruption, heard in the following video:

Wilson's outburst was not an isolated incident; it was part of the disruptiveness that took place in townhall meetings across the country, orchestrated by such right wing groups as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. And Wilson, like those who are part of the townhall mobs, spread a falsehood by contending that Democratic healthcare plans call for the coverage of illegal immigrants. Representative Joseph Crowley (D-NY) put it correctly in calling Wilson's interruption "outrageous" and a reminder of the "antics that are being used to disrupt and fog what is going on."

Fox Presents "So You Think You Can Dance" During Obama Healthcare Speech

Fox News, despite serving as the propaganda arm of the Republican party, bills itself as "Fair and Balanced" and proclaims, "We Report–You Decide." Fox's constant trashing of President Obama by the likes of Beck, Hannity and O'Reilly and its cheerleading for the tea party protests give the lie to these slogans. Still, one would think that Fox would put up a pretense of living up to their promotional themes.

Apparently not. While three major networks covered the speech, Fox declined the opportunity. I don't have the episode of the program that Fox showed during the speech, but I do have another video from the same show. We can take the following as representative of what Fox believes to be more important than President Obama's major address on healthcare to a joint session of Congress and millions of Americans:

Progressive Co-Chair Rep. Raul Grijalva: Public Option Is Essential

In the midst of President Obama's excellent speech on healthcare reform, there was one passage that gave cause for concern: his comments on the public option. From the speech:

Now, it is -- it's worth noting that a strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option of the sort I've proposed tonight. But its impact shouldn't be exaggerated -- by the left or the right or the media. It is only one part of my plan, and shouldn't be used as a handy excuse for the usual Washington ideological battles. To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage available for those without it. (Applause.) The public option -- the public option is only a means to that end -- and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.

Is the public option just a means to an end, or an end in itself? I believe that it is the latter. The struggle for healthcare reform is not just about ending the most abusive practices of the healthcare insurance industry: the denial of coverage, the refusal to renew it, and the refusal to accept "pre-existing conditions." There's also the skyrocketing cost of health insurance, made worse by the overhead, CEO salaries and advertising that all of us pay for. The private insurance giants can do as they please, and they have a financial incentive to deny coverage. The public option is the only entity that can keep them honest by forcing them to enact reasonable rates and provide consistent coverage.

Speaking on "Democracy Now," Progressive Co-Chair Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) (shown above) insisted that the public option must be a part of healthcare reform:

...without any significant public component, it is not going to be the reform that the President wants, and it’s not going to be—it’s not going to satisfy the expectations of the base of voters that are right now feeling somewhat disheartened that we’re not moving more aggressively to get his public plan done and done right.

...You could expand Medicare and enroll more people and lower the age requirement, open the eligibility. You can call it whatever you want. But the basic role that government has in holding private industry, private insurance accountable, cost containment and a publicly run choice for the American people has to be part of the plan and a good idea.

...We have been advocating for this. We have been working with people on this, and we’re going to fight it down to the very last day. It’s got to be part of it. If it’s not, we’re just showering money upon money upon the same system and the same industry that got us into the mess we’re in right now.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Florida GOP Chair Jim Greer Condemns Obama School Speech, Then Actually Reads It

On September 3, Republican Party chair Jim Greer (left) was quoted as stating before President Obama's speech that he “was appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology.”

On September 8, Greer was reported to have read the text of the speech prior to its delivery and to have found nothing to criticize. Of course, it's difficult to call subversive a presidential speech with passages such as the following:

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world - and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

How is it that Greer was ready to denounce Obama's speech and its supposed ideology before he had actually read or heard it? It's clear that Greer, who holds a position of responsibility in his party, was spouting off. The assumption on the right is that anything said or proposed by Obama must be "socialist" or "fascist" or any other label thrown about recklessly. Both terms have been applied with equal abandon by the eminent historian Glenn Beck.

As far as I know, Greer has neither issued an apology nor shown any embarrassment for his earlier ridiculous remarks. His later concession cost nothing and he knows it. He played a part in convincing gullible parents to keep their children home. One father in Texas did so, stating, "I don't want our schools turned over to some socialist movement." It's unfortunate for a father to keep his children home from school so that they can't hear a speech whose real message was to stay in school. Some students who actually heard the speech said the following:

“He made me think I can do anything I want to,” Haley [Welch] said after the speech. “Even if I have problems at home, school is a different place where I can leave that behind.”

...“I liked the speech,” said Christian Cristin-Sanchez, summing up views of several classmates. “He said you have to work hard, to always listen to others and have respect.”

...“Asking a question is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength,” Ella Zeiler added.

These, I suppose, represent the young minds indoctrinated by Obama. How many reckless charges must be made against this President before those–like Jim Greer–who make them are immediately dismissed as buffoons?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Modern Sculpture Finds A Natural Setting On East And West Coasts

This past summer, I viewed modern sculpture in outdoor settings on the East and West Coasts. Walking through 500 acres of the Storm King Art Center in New York's Hudson Valley, I realized why abstract sculpture is perfectly set in the outdoors. One focuses on the very qualities found in nature: form, texture, light and shadow. A few photos I took there:

Touring the UCLA campus, I came upon the 3.4-acre Murphy Sculpture Garden. Here are several shots I took of outstanding work from the past century:

Senator Ted Kennedy (1932-2009): Born Into Wealth, Dedicated To Those In Need

Senator Ted Kennedy passed away while I was on vacation, and I would be remiss not to note a few tributes to the Liberal Lion of the Senate. Kennedy provided a counter-example to the many politicians born into wealth who are dedicated to increasing the benefits of the privileged. President Obama put it well in his eulogy:

The landmark laws that he championed — the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, immigration reform, children's health care, the Family and Medical Leave Act — all have a running thread. Ted Kennedy's life's work was not to champion those with wealth or power or special connections. It was to give a voice to those who were not heard; to add a rung to the ladder of opportunity; to make real the dream of our founding...

...We can still hear his voice bellowing through the Senate chamber, face reddened, fist pounding the podium, a veritable force of nature, in support of health care or workers' rights or civil rights.

Robert Sheer, in AlterNet, compared Kennedy to FDR–and both to Bush:

In the first year of the George W. Bush presidency, I wrote a column for the Los Angeles Times entitled "Bush Could Really Use a Fireside Chat With FDR," stating: "This is a president who never learned that it is possible to be a leader born of privilege and yet be absorbed with the fate of those in need. … Not so Roosevelt, a true aristocrat whose genuine love of the common man united this country to save it during its most severe time of economic turmoil and devastating war." Kennedy wrote a note thanking me for the column, adding, "I can think of at least fifty on the Senate side of Capitol Hill that could benefit from a good fireside chat as well."

That's also a worthy epitaph for Ted Kennedy: Born of privilege, and yet absorbed with the fate of those in need.

The Nation asked the administration and the Democrats to follow the example of Kennedy in reforming healthcare:

Senator Edward Kennedy was a fighting liberal, a lion to the very end--often among timid cubs. His final fight was for quality, affordable healthcare for all. As recently as July, Kennedy called it "the cause of my life" and argued eloquently that "quality care shouldn't depend on your financial resources, or the type of job you have, or the medical condition you face."

...If Obama gives up this fight and caves in to lobbyists--and if Congressional Democrats and the grassroots fail to deliver the support he needs--that window will slam shut, and with it the chance for reform, which might not come for another generation.

That would be a tragedy--and no way to honor the Lion of the Senate.

May Ted Kennedy's fighting liberal spirit live on and inspire his colleagues to ensure that the cause of his life is enacted.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Jeff Beck's Bolero, Live In Japan

Appearing in Japan at the Fuji Speedway in 2006, guitarist Jeff Beck demonstrated the note-bending and distortion that are hallmarks of his innovative, aggressive style. Here he performs "Beck's Bolero," originally recorded in 1967 and inspired by French composer Maurice Ravel's "Bolero":

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Why Conservative Parents Fear Obama's "Socialist Youth" Speech

Florida Republican party chair Jim Greer spoke for many conservative parents when he explained why he's against President Obama's speech to schoolchildren on Tuesday: he's "appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology."

At first this made no sense to me. The president intends to urge youngsters to work hard and stay in school. Are these "socialist" notions just because they're coming from Obama? If a child listened to the President, stayed in school, earned an MBA and became a corporate executive, how would that fit into the President's nefarious plan to put us all on collective farms?

As I thought further about it, though, it began to make sense. Obama wants kids to stay in school–public school. Like the public option in health care, public school is socialist. What we really should be doing is privatizing the entire educational system. Education should be reserved for children whose parents can afford private school, since education, like health care, ought to be considered a privilege, not a right. We don't need a big government public school system–and we don't need the President urging kids to stay in this socialist institution.

"Stay in school"? Why, that's positively Marxist!

Barney Frank Responds To Vile, Contemptible Nonsense

I know that Congressman Barney Frank's (D-MA) exchange with Rachel Brown, a member of the LaRouche group, took place about two weeks ago while I was on vacation. Regardless, I have to note it here. Frank spoke for all of us who are fed up with the wingnuts whose response to health care reform is to shout down, or hurl absurdities at, anyone with whom they disagree:

Brown: Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy as Obama has expressly supported this policy?

Frank: On what planet do you spend most of your time? As you stand there with a picture of the president defaced to look like Hitler and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis, my answer to you is, as I said before, it is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated. Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it.

Frank is right on both counts. To equate trying to provide health care for all Americans with pursuing genocide is obscene. One simply cannot have a rational conversation with someone who makes such a reference.